Thursday, May 3, 2012
Dreamliners go from big parts to completion in the Final Assembly building.
Boeing South Carolina VP and General Manager Jack Jones was not kidding when he told reporters they were in for a treat the morning of April 27.
Local, state and national media toured the Boeing plant in North Charleston, speaking with some of the 6,000 employees while taking an up close look at the facility.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the astounding facts and statistics of the airplane and facility, which only sink in after stepping inside the aft-body building, the first of three main manufacturing sites on the tour.
The entire campus, as it’s called, is 2.5 million square feet.
Inside this building that is several stories high the last third of the 787 fuselage is assembled, led by Boeing Director of Aft-body Assembly Matt Borland. Employees work with surgical precision around the clock in three shifts. Several enormous beige aft-body sections and the many parts that go into them, such as aft-body support beams resembling giant bicycle tires, are seen throughout the building. Some employees are building parts that will go into “Ship 77,” or the 77th Dreamliner that will be built. Charleston’s first Dreamliner was unveiled later on this day and there are three more 787s that will be completed in Charleston by the end of the year. Dedicated employees like Production Manager Marcus Hardy are working on the floor grid for the aft body. Hardy, a Summerville resident, has lived in the area for three years and has worked for Boeing in Japan. Mechanic Curtis Triplett, of Charleston, has worked on the Dreamliner in both final assembly plants: first in North Charleston for 1.5 years, then in Everett, Wash. for one year and he has been back in South Carolina for two years. Among the many jobs under this roof, the aft-body building also contains four BROETJE machines where spars are installed into the shell of the aft-body. Charleston is the world’s only producer of the 787 aft-body. The aft-bodies are shipped from here to Puget Sound on a Boeing Dreamlifter, a 747 converted for cargo.
Mid-body production Right next door is the mid-body assembly building, where the heart of the 787 is made, Director of Mid-body Assembly Will Geary said. There are four components of the mid-body, two of which come from Japan and two come from Italy, Geary said. Here all the electronics and wires are installed into the mid-body. There are three lines of production in this building, A, B and C, where employees install the many parts that go into this part of the fuselage.
Customer Delivery Center The Delivery Center looks like a luxury hotel lounge from the future, but better. The three story building has an all-glass façade on the side where airline employees can view the plane they’re about to pick up. Airline employees will walk on one of only two all-glass airplane boarding bridges in the United States here as they board their new 787s. “When we created the delivery center and flight line here there was a lot of forward thinking,” Delivery Center Director Dave Palmer said. Local color is added with pastel walls and murals depicting Lowcountry scenes like the Morris Island Lighthouse. The second story is exclusively for customers and has an area that resembles an Asian lounge and 13 customer officers and conference rooms with great views of the facility. So far 15 airlines have visited the Delivery Center, Palmer said. “It’s their space whenever they’re here.”
Final Assembly Stepping inside the Final Assembly building is surreal. This 1.2 million square foot building, the largest of its kind in the world, is where the Dreamliner pieces are assembled. This is one of three final assembly sites in the world for wide-body jets, which can be defined as airplanes with two aisles to walk down. The other final assembly plants are Boeing’s Everett, Wash. facility and Airbus’s Toulouse, France site. Charleston’s Final Assembly building is large enough to hold two Boeing 747s wingtip to wingtip. It was built on top of an old phosphate mine at an alarming speed – finishing seven months ahead of schedule, Final Assembly Director Marco Cavazonni said. He said while the employees have different jobs, they are all fundamentally equal. Safety always comes first. “This is the best team in the world,” Cavazonni said. “We call them surgeons.” There were three airplanes in the building, including the first one built entirely in South Carolina, which would be unveiled that afternoon. Employees Clint Dungan and Chris Sitera, both of Summerville, are responsible for turning the plane on and testing it once it’s complete to make sure it’s safe. “We have a couple of key people in Seattle that help us when we need the help,” Sitera said. “The majority of us are ex-military and have experience with airplanes.” “It feels good to put the ‘Made in America’ stamp back on an American product,” Dungan said, adding that airplanes went from wood to aluminum and now composite. “It feels good to be part of that transition.”